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San Onofre State Beach is a state park located in San Diego Countymarker, Californiamarker, USAmarker. The beach is south of the city of San Clementemarker on Interstate 5 at Basilone Road. Governor Ronald Reagan established San Onofre State Beach in 1971. With over 2.5 million visitors per year, it is one of the five most-visited state parks in California, hosting swimmers, campers, kayakers, birders, fishermen, off-duty Marine, bicyclists, sunbathers, surfers, and the sacred Native American site of Panhe.

Located between San Onofre Bluffs and San Onofre Surf Beach is the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stationmarker (SONGS), which generates enough energy to power 1.5 million homes in Southern California.

Park attractions

The San Onofre Bluffs portion of San Onofre State Beach features of sandy beaches with six access trails cut into the bluff above. The campground is along the old U.S. Route 101 adjacent to the sandstone bluffs. The beach is popular with swimmers and surfers. San Onofre includes San Onofre Bluffs; San Onofre Surf Beach, a day use facility; San Mateo campgrounds and day use facility; and Trestles Beach, accessible via a nature trail from San Mateo Campgrounds. Alcohol is banned from all beaches within the State Park.

The park includes a marshy area where San Mateo Creek meets the shoreline and Trestles beachmarker, a well-known California surfing site. Whales, dolphins and sea lions can be seen offshore from time to time. The park’s coastal terrace is chaparral-covered.


A surfing and fishing camp had been there since the 1920s, before the land was taken by the U.S. government to establish Camp Pendleton, a U.S. Marine training camp during World War II. Surfers using redwood boards have visited San Onofre since at least the 1940s, including notables Lorrin "Whitey" Harrison, Don Okey, Al Dowden, Tom Wilson, and Bob Simmons.

San Onofre has several surf breaks on its of coast, ranging from the beginner’s gentle breaking waves to one of the premiere surf breaks in the United States, Trestles.

  • Trestles Beachmarker - Trestles is inaccessible by vehicle; a long walk from either the north or south end is necessary for access. This world-famous surfing area is known for its consistent waves.
  • Church - Located near Camp Pendleton’smarker beach resort, Church provides sunbathing and duck watching. The name refers to the long-gone chapel which was located not far from the site.
  • Surf Beach - The "surf beach" area has 'flush' pit toilets and cold showers, but no camping. It is divided by the locality into three breaks spots known as The Point, Old Man’s, and Dogpatch (named from north to south). All perform best on a south swell, though the beach takes any surf and slows it down to a very slow pace. The entire area is covered by a rock reef, often making walking into or out of the water difficult.
  • Trails - Trails is the most southern of surf spots in this region and includes both rock bottom and sandy breaks. Trails is also the last point to camp at San Onofre. Camping is on the bluffs with cold showers and 'flush' pit toilets near by.


Panhe is an ancient Acjachemen village that is over 8,000 years old and a current sacred, ceremonial, cultural, and burial site for the Acjachemen people. Many Acjachemen people trace their lineage back to Panhe. It is the site of the first baptism in California, and in 1769 saw the first close contact between Spanish explorers, Catholic missionaries, and the Acjachemen people. The United Coalition to Protect Panhe and The City Project advocate for the preservation of the site.

Toll road controversy

The Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) seeks to construct a six lane toll highway (graded for eight lanes) through San Onofre State Beach/Park and a habitat reserve in Orange County, joining the San Diego Freeway at the Trestles surf break. The Toll Road is favored by several cities, business groups, and public officials from Orange County as a way to ease future traffic congestion. The toll road is opposed by more than two dozen of California’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., thirty-eight California legislators including California's United States Senator Barbara Boxer, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Surfrider Foundation, Save Trestles, the California State Parks Foundation, the California State Park and Recreation Commission, the Native American United Coalition to Protect Panhe, The City Project, the Save San Onofre Coalition, and others. Opposition is based upon environmental damage that would result from construction and operation of the Toll Road, the loss of park camping and recreational areas, the loss/damage to a site sacred to Native Americans (Panhe), and studies that show that traffic congestion would actually increase on the San Diego Freeway if the toll road was built through San Onofre Beach. A survey of Orange County voters revealed that while 52% favored some kind of toll road, 66% opposed a route that would cut through San Onofre State Park. As part of the effort, at least four groups filed lawsuits with the goal of preventing the toll road from passing through San Onofre State Beach.

On February 6, 2008 the California Coastal Commission denied a Coastal Permit for the route proposed to cut through San Onofre and the Reserve, saying that of the eight proposals considered, the San Onofre route sought by the TCA was the most environmentally damaging. Had a permit been granted, the 241 Toll Road would have been the first to run through a California state park. The TCA appealed the Costal Commission's decision to the U.S.marker Department of Commercemarker (DOC). On December 18, 2008, the DOC affirmed the California Coastal Commission’s ruling that found the TCA’s proposed extension through San Onofre was inconsistent with the California Coastal Act. In a release, the DOC stated that at least one reasonable alternative to the project existed, and that the project was not necessary in the interest of national security.

Nude beach & controversy

The traditional clothing-optional area (see nude beach) was located at the extreme south end of the San Onofre Bluffs beach via "Trail 6." In May 2008, the California Department of Parks and Recreation announced that anyone unclothed at any part of San Onofre State Beach would be issed a citation. On June 25, 2009, the Court of Appeals for California upheld (approved) this change for San Onofre State Beach, ruling in response to a lawsuit challenging the change. Following this ruling, the California Department of Parks and Recreation has said that as to the 1000 feet of beach at the southern-most end of San Onofre Bluffs beach via "Trail 6," that they will give nude sunbathers verbal warnings through Labor Day weekend, 2009. Officials say nudists will be cited after that and arrested if necessary.


  1. San Onofre State Beach - State of California
  2. Southern California Edison website
  3. San Onofre Surfing Club: History of the San Onofre Surfing Club (1974).
  4. Save San Onofre and Native American Sacred Site Panhe
  8. OCTA's 2006 Long Range Transportation Plan, PEIR, at pp. 5-5 and 5-11, July 26, 2006.
  11. Calif. toll road hearing focuses on security

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